Indigenous Peoples and Human Rights

March 13, 2023

Biden Approves Oil Drilling in Arctic: 199 Wells of Destruction

Biden Administration Approves Major Alaskan Arctic Drilling Project

Separate Step Protects Areas of Arctic Ocean Not Currently at Risk of Drilling

By Center for Biological Diversity
Censored News
Translated into French for Censored News
by Christine Prat

WASHINGTON— The Biden administration released the final Willow Master Development Plan today, greenlighting the oil development project in Alaska’s Western Arctic. The final version of the project would allow for drilling at three pads.

“Biden approved Willow knowing full well that it’ll cause massive and irreversible destruction, which is appalling,” said Kristen Monsell, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “People and wildlife will suffer, and extracting and burning more fossil fuel will warm the climate even faster. Biden has no excuse for letting this project go forward in any form. New Arctic drilling makes no sense, and we’ll fight hard to keep ConocoPhillips from breaking ground.”

Willow would permanently scar the largest undeveloped area in the United States, jeopardize the health and traditional practices of nearby Indigenous communities, and harm essential wildlife habitat for polar bears, migratory birds, caribou and other iconic species.

The Arctic is warming four times faster than the rest of the planet, worsening sea-level rise, sea-ice melt and permafrost thaw. ConocoPhillips’ plan involves using giant chillers to refreeze thawing permafrost to ensure a solid drilling surface.

The project involves drilling up to 199 wells. The company will also build and operate a processing facility, hundreds of miles of ice roads, hundreds of miles of pipelines, an airstrip, and a gravel mine in the northeastern corner of the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska.

The project could produce up to 576 million of barrels of oil, resulting in more than 239 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions over 30 years.

The Trump administration rushed approval of the Willow project in late 2020, and the Center, along with Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace and Earthjustice, challenged the approval in court.

In August 2021 a federal judge held the project approval unlawful for failing to adequately consider its climate impacts or the harm it would cause to polar bears. The court threw out the approval of the project and remanded the matter to the agency.

The Bureau of Land Management released an environmental impact statement for the project in February. It indicated that Willow would receive final approval but would likely be smaller than what was initially proposed.

On Sunday the Biden administration announced protections from oil and gas leasing for 2.8 million acres of the Beaufort Sea. Coupled with protections President Obama put in place in 2016, this means the entire Arctic Ocean is now protected. But that area was not at immediate risk of new leasing.

“It’s insulting that Biden thinks this will change our minds about the Willow project,” Monsell said. “Protecting one area of the Arctic so you can destroy another doesn’t make sense, and it won’t help the people and wildlife who will be upended by the Willow project. We need to protect the entire Arctic and stop building massive oil and gas developments that will contribute to greenhouse gas emissions for years to come.”

Sunday’s announcement also states the administration’s intent to release a proposed rule to consider additional protections for certain onshore areas in the Western Arctic known as “special areas.” The announcement was silent about addressing other areas of the Western Arctic currently open to oil drilling.

“Even one new oil well in the Arctic is one well too many,” Monsell said. “If Biden wants to protect the Arctic, he needs to protect all of it. The president has left us in the cold and missed a major opportunity to live up to his climate commitments. This project is on weak legal ground, and we’re gearing up for action.”


Kristen Monsell

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